Emergent Literacy – the frustration!

February 6, 2017 by Jorn Krige in Speech Therapist

As a family, we speak A LOT! Not just because I know the research, the 30 million word gap or Bucking the Trend, but because we believe communication is key to happiness. So my daughters have good vocabularies, can rhyme till the cows come home and spin a yarn with the best of them! They are in the ideal place for literacy to develop or as Stephen Pinker explains to be “bolted on” to spoken language. So I was excited to start the reading journey with Amy when she began her first year of formal education in January (as we live in South Africa, children only start to learn to read the year they turn 7). As a professional immersed in literacy and language, I was obviously on high alert for any type of delay in relation to her peers. This journey as mother, not professional, has been eye opening!

Watching the natural stages of reading progress in her is like a dream come true but going on this journey with her has made me realise how frustrating, worrying and difficult even normally developing reading can be! Here’s an example – we read books every night and the same words keep coming up in one book, ‘I’ ‘we’ ‘like’ and every time she comes across them, it’s like she’s never seen them before (despite the fact that they have been on our fridge for about a year)! It became very frustrating and worrying and being the person I am assumed immediately that she had processing speed difficulties! I also know that too much practice and negative experiences around reading are not helpful and so did not ‘push’ it and just waited to see how she would progress. Well, that was the right decision – after 5 months of formal education in literacy she is now well on her way to becoming an independent reader and my fears have allayed. At some point in the past few weeks it has all ‘clicked’ and she is remembering the words we have been doing for nearly one year now.

My advice to any parent who is worried about their child’s literacy in the first school year is to monitor the situation for at least 3 months but up to 6 months, before becoming concerned. Every child is different and they will all ‘click’ at different times. My advice is to make literacy / reading FUN and only engage your child when he/she is keen and interested – never force literacy or reading it should come from your child and when they do show an interest DROP EVERYTHING and get in there with some good reading and speaking. However, be cautious during these 3-6 months as you don’t want to lose valuable time if your child is going to continue to struggle, the gap will only widen. Some signs to watch out for:

  1. Difficulty identifying sounds in words: can your child play I Spy or identify the first SOUND (not letter) in a short word? For example, shoe begins with /sh/, ball begins with /b/, nose begins with /n/. If your child is struggling to play these games at age 5, you may want to refer her to a speech and language therapist immediately.
  2. Difficulty remembering the letter names or sounds: although there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there are actually 44 sounds! Can you child recall the most common sounds that match the letters (e.g. the letter A makes and ‘ay’ sound, the letter C makes a ‘c’ sound etc)
  3. Difficulty remembering and following instructions: all children can struggle to follow instructions as they are easily distracted. However, if your child is concentrating and trying her best to remember an instruction but cannot do it, then it might suggest some kind of processing difficulty that will later affect reading comprehension
  4. Family history: if anyone in the family has a history of dyslexia or speech / language difficulties and you starting to get concerned about your child’s progress in reading, I would suggest that you don’t wait those extra 3 months, get in with specialist intervention as soon as possible

If you have any concerns or worries I am always willing to talk to parents and give some advice and tips on what to do to help your child. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like any advice on how to work with your child at the emergent literacy stage. Amanda@wordsfirst.uk

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